Omid Safi, editor and translator, Radical Love: Teachings from the Islamic Mystical Tradition (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2018), 284pp.
Despite their many important differences, if there's a common core shared by the world religions, it's the conviction that at the heart of the cosmos there is perfect Love. In this anthology of poems, prayers, teachings, and aphorisms by Omid Safi, professor of Islamic studies at Duke University, we see the centrality of "Radical Love" in the Islamic mystical tradition. Both Sunni and Shi'i mystics, says Safi, have "collectively sought to bring unity to humanity by transcending sectarianism."
If I count correctly, there are 216 selections here in the space of about 250 pages, which indicates that they are all quite short: many of them are just a few lines, and the longest ones are barely one page. Safi has made his own translations, with the intent of avoiding both wooden literalism and loose paraphrases. After a thirty-page introduction, he organizes the book into four sections: the radical love that is not just in God, but that is God's very essence; the path of radical love; the "dance" between the Lover and the Beloved; and the Beloved Community. Virtually all of these texts come from the 11th to the 14th centuries, with a preponderance of them from the Qur'an, Rumi, and various hadith.
Here are just two of my favorites. From the Qur'an: "I created humanity / I know what whispers into your soul / and I am closer to you / than the beating of your heart." And from the Persian poet Rumi (d. 1273): "On Resurrection Day, / All of one's deeds will be weighed / on the cosmic scale: / Prayers / Fasting / Charity / Then love will be brought forth / Love doesn't fit / even in that scale."
Reading this book reminded me of the Revelations of Divine Love by Julian of Norwich (1342–1416). On the last page of her long text in chapter 86 she concludes: "From the time these things were first revealed I had often wanted to know what was our Lord's meaning. It was more than fifteen years after that I was answered in my spirit's understanding. 'You would know our Lord's meaning in this thing? Know it well. Love was his meaning. Who showed it to you? Love. What did he show you? Love. Why did he show it? For love. Hold on to this and you will know and understand love more and more. But you will not know or learn anything else — ever."
Dan Clendenin: email@example.com